There Is a God How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
British philosopher Flew has long been something of an evangelist for atheism, debating theologians and pastors in front of enormous crowds. In 2004, breathless news reports announced that the nonagenarian had changed his mind. This book tells why. Ironically, his arguments about the absurdity of God-talk launched a revival of philosophical theists, some of whom, like Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, were important in Flew's recent conversion to theism. Breakthroughs in science, especially cosmology, also played a part: if the speed or mass of the electron were off just a little, no life could have evolved on this planet. Perhaps the arrogance of the New Atheists also emboldened him, as Flew taunts them for failing to live up to the greatness of atheists of yore. The book concludes with an appendix by New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright, arguing for the coherence of Christian belief in the resurrection. Flew praises Wright, though he maintains some distance still from orthodox Christianity. The book will be most avidly embraced by traditional theists seeking argumentative ammunition. It sometimes disappoints: quoting other authorities at length, citing religion-friendly scientists for pages at a time and belaboring side issues, like the claim that Einstein was really a religious believer of sorts. ~ Publishers Weekly
Table of Contents
- Preface VII
- Introduction I
- My Denial of the Divine 7
- The Creation of an Atheist 9
- Where the Evidence Leads 31
- Atheism Calmly Considered 65
- My Discovery of the Divine 83
- A Pilgrimage of Reason 85
- Who Wrote the Laws of Nature? 95
- Did the Universe Know We Were Coming? 113
- How Did Life Go Live? 123
- Did Something Come from Nothing? 133
- Finding Space for God 147
- Open to Omnipotence 155
- Appendices 159
- The "New Atheism": A Critical Appraisal of Dawkins, Dennett, Wolpert, Harris, and Stenger Roy Abraham Varghese 161
- The Self-Revelation of God in Human History: A Dialogue on Jesus with N.T. Wright 185
- Notes 215
The Creation of an Atheist
I was not always an atheist. I began life quite religiously. I was raised in a Christian home and attended a private Christian school. In fact, I am the son of a preacher.
My father was a product of Merton College, Oxford, and a minister of religion in the Wesleyan Methodist rather than the established church, the Church of England. Although his heart remained always in evangelism and, as Anglicans would say, in parish work, my own earliest memories of him are as tutor in New Testament studies at the Methodist theological college in Cambridge. Later he succeeded the head of that college and was to eventually retire and die in Cambridge. In addition to the basic scholarly and teaching duties of these offices, my father undertook a great deal of work as a Methodist representative in various interchurch organizations. He also served one-year terms as president of both the Methodist Conference and the Free Church Federal Council.
I would be hard-pressed to isolate or identify any signs in my boyhood of my later atheist convictions. In my youth, I attended Kingswood School in Bath, known informally as K.S. It was, and happily still remains, a public boarding school (an institution of a kind that everywhere else in the English-speaking world would be described, paradoxically, as a private boarding school). It had been founded by John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, for the education of the sons of his preachers. (A century or more after the foundation of Kingswood School, Queenswood School was founded in order to accommodate the daughters of Methodist preachers in the appropriately egalitarian way.)
I entered Kingswood as a committed and conscientious, if unenthusiastic, Christian. I could never see the point of worship and have always been far too unmusical to enjoy or even participate in hymn singing. I never approached any religious literature with the same unrestrained eagerness with which I consumed books on politics, history, science, or almost any other topic. Going to chapel or church, saying prayers, and all other religious practices were for me matters of more or less weary duty. Never did I feel the slightest desire to commune with God.
Why I should be—from my earliest memory—generally uninterested in the religious practices and issues that so shaped my father's world I cannot say. I simply don't recall feeling any interest or enthusiasm for such observances. Nor do I think I ever felt my mind enchanted or "my heart strangely warmed," to use Wesley's famous phrase, in Christian study or worship. Whether my youthful lack of enthusiasm for religion was a cause or effect—or both—who can say? But I can say that whatever faith I had when I entered K.S. was gone by the time I finished.
A theory of devolution
I am told that the Barna Group, a prominent Christian demographic polling organization, concluded from its surveys that in essence what you believe by the time you are thirteen is what you will die believing. Whether or not this finding is correct, I do know that the beliefs I formed in my early teenage years stayed with me for most of my adult life.
Just how and when the change began, I cannot remember precisely. But certainly, as with any thinking person, multiple factors combined in the creation of my convictions. Not the least among these factors was what Immanuel Kant called "an eagerness of mind not unbecoming to scholarship," which I believe I shared with my father. Both he and I were disposed to follow the path of "wisdom" as Kant described it: "It is wisdom that has the merit of selecting, from among innumerable problems that present themselves, those whose solution is important to humankind." My father's Christian convictions persuaded him that there could be nothing more "important to humankind" than the elucidation, propagation, and implementation of whatever is in truth the teaching of the New Testament. My intellectual journey took me in a different direction, of course, but one that was no less marked by the eagerness of mind I shared with him.
I also recall being most beneficially reminded by my father on more than one occasion that when biblical scholars want to become familiar with some peculiar Old Testament concept, they do not try to find an answer simply by thinking it through on their own. Instead, they collect and examine, with as much context as they can find, all available contemporary examples of the employment of the relevant Hebrew word. This scholarly approach in many ways formed the basis of my earliest intellectual explorations—and one I have yet to abandon—of collecting and examining, in context, all relevant information on a given subject. It is ironic, perhaps, that the household in which I grew up very likely instilled in me the enthusiasm for critical investigation that would eventually lead me to reject my father's faith.
The face of evil
I have said in some of my later atheist writings that I reached the conclusion about the nonexistence of God much too quickly, much too easily, and for what later seemed to me the wrong reasons. I reconsidered this negative conclusion at length and often, but for nearly seventy years thereafter I never found grounds sufficient to warrant any fundamental reversal. One of those early reasons for my conversion to atheism was the problem of evil.
My father took my mother and me on annual summer holidays abroad. Although these would not have been affordable on a minister's salary, they were made possible because my father often spent the early part of summer examining for the Higher School Certificate Examinations Board (now called A-level examinations) and had been paid for that work. We were also able to travel abroad cheaply since my father was fluent in German after two years of theological study in the University of Marburg before World War I. He was thus able to take us on holiday in Germany, and . . .